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A Critic's Notebook: The Year in Review

Just looking

Critics can't see everything, but with a little effort, they can come pretty close. I undoubtedly missed some important work, but I believe I saw much of what was presented in Atlanta this year across the arts.

Like many arts writers during the holidays, I've been asked to write several "Top Ten" and "Best of" and "Year in Review" lists for various publications. But the following list is slightly different. It's more personal than just my choices of what I thought were the best and most accomplished works of the year in a particular category. This is the work across all the arts - film, theater, music, dance, visual arts - that I loved, that stuck with me, that became part of my understanding of the world, that changed my ideas about what's possible, that made me feel curious, alert, and hopeful about what's ahead. This is the work I know I'll remember long after 2013 is history. This list could easily be much longer, but one has to stop somewhere, so I'll stop at ten.

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I'm not at all opposed to traditional Top Ten lists, but it seems somewhat silly to rank these from 1 to 10 so I've just listed them here in the chronological order I saw them:

Frida and Diego: Passion, Politics, and Painting at the High Museum, February 14-May 12
Image A rare, practically singular chance to see works by the two artists side by side. Set up so that one could see the virtues of their different approaches to painting and the development of their overlapping, often conflicting, philosophies, all of it attesting to Frida Kahlo's and Diego Rivera's enormous, fascinating, different, but always influencing personalities and outlooks.

Saiah's Moby Dick at the Lifecycle Building Center, April 10-May 12
Image The new grassroots theater organization Saiah took the story of Moby Dick, retaining its poetic core, and adapted it with a contemporary twist at once spare and open. The staging at the Lifecycle Building Center, an early 20th-century warehouse in southwest Atlanta, showed an incredible inventiveness and resourcefulness in depicting the hardscrabble world of 19th-century whaling.

Post Tenebras Lux at the High Museum, April 27

::::Many reviewers called out this film by Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas for being self-indulgent, dense, inscrutable, and disjointed. Well, fair enough. It's all those things. But it's also a completely original, totally unforgettable work of art.

Shantala Shivalingappa at Spoleto, June 8
Image At a huge performing arts festival that regularly brings in some of the world's great artists for large-scale operas, major concerts at huge venues, and elaborate full-cast theatrical performances, it can be difficult for a solo performer dancing to the music of a small band of acoustic musicians to stand out. But dancer Shantala Shivalingappa did just that with her show of traditional kuchipudi dance that became, for me, the highlight of Spoleto 2013: her performance was gob-smackingly precise, head-trippingly meditative, and unforgettably beautiful.

gloATL's Liquid Culture at the Woodruff Arts Center and other Atlanta locations, July 6-20
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Swings and blue astro-turf, the kids of the Collision Project speaking their hopeful, aspirational messages, Magic Carpet Ride, Chopin Études and Leonard Cohen's Take This Waltz. It was all made even more moving by the casual disclosure beforehand that this third installment of gloATL's wonderful Liquid Culture series of performances would be the last.

Kim Gordon and Bill Nace perform a soundtrack to Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, Augusta's Westobou Festival, October 2
Image Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and current collaborator Bill Nace created a haunting contemporary soundtrack to Dreyer's nightmarish, psychologically prescient 1927 silent classic about the trials of Joan of Arc. Presented in a former Catholic Church in Augusta's historic district, it made for an unforgettable evening.

NT Live's Othello, Landmark Midtown Arts Cinema, October 27

::::London's National Theatre updated Othello's Muslim and Christian Old-World politics to today's state security world of blast-barrier walled compounds and container-truck ready modular fortresses. But the fact is, you could dress this cast in rags, and they could still breathe life and spontaneity into Shakespeare's classic text.

Niv Sheinfeld & Oren Laor's Two Room Apartment, Tanz Farm, The Goat Farm Arts Center, November 3
Image Sheinfeld and Laor looked to the past in recreating the classic duet by male and female Israeli duo Nir Ben Gal and Liat Dror, but the couple didn't shy away from making the work utterly their own. Two Room Apartment didn't just invite us into the place, it cozied up next to us, making viewers party to a troubled, agitated, often disturbingly recognizable intimacy.

Nicholas Phan at Spivey Hall, November 9
Image Tenor Nicholas Phan was exquisite to hear, giving just enough emotional color to lyrics to show he was a master of the subtle approach. His beautiful interpretations were implicit advocacy for the vocal repertoire of composer Benjamin Britten.

The RuPaul Cross-Stitch Animation Workshop, Erikson Clock Building, December 14 (gallery hours ongoing through January 4)
Artist Aubrey Longley-Cook's work isn't just memorable for its colorful and deliciously wry sense of humor, but for the beautiful way the artist engaged a community of volunteer collaborators to painstakingly cross-stitch 35 individual portraits of RuPaul to form a brief animation. I followed the work for part of its more-than-year-long creation, and when I finally saw the finished two-second portrait, I thought RuPaul looked like she was glancing around for a way to burst out of that frame. Stoked, radioactive, unfixed, intense, arduous, celebratory, communal, anticipatory, Longley-Cook's Ru makes the perfect symbol to sum up the year and to set the stage for what's ahead in 2014.